Lodewijk Mortelmans (1868-1952) was one of a number of Belgian late-romantic composers who, at least as a group, deserve further exploration. Though Mortelmans's music is not on the level of that of his contemporary, the first-rate composer Adolphe Biarent, there is at least plenty to enjoy when it is given in performances as superb as it gets here. Mortelmans was apparently sometimes known as a "Flemish Brahms", though one may indeed wonder why. The music here reveals plenty of influences - a bit of Schumann, some Liszt, Tchaikovsky, de Boeck and (obviously) Franck, but most of all Wagner - but there isn't much here that brings the listener's mind in the direction of Brahms.
The 42-minute Homerisch Symfonie is a big-boned, ripe and rich romantic symphony - or perhaps rather a four-movement symphonic poem. I suppose no one will accuse Mortelmans of originality, but the opening movement has a glint and a drive that keep your attention, the slow movement is solemnly beautiful if somewhat unmemorable, and the quirky, mysterious song of the sirens in the scherzo is captivating (even if it goes on for a bit too long at 11'41). The finale has all the bluff grandeur of the music for a soap opera about rich Texans, but I can live with that. It draws an overall attractive work to a compelling conclusion, and the performance by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins is splendid in all respects.
It turns out that this is actually my second recording of "Morning Mood" and third (!) recording of Mythe der Lente (how did that happen?). The latter, at least, is not a particularly memorable work, though Brabbins and his forces blow the versions by Fernand Terby on Phaedra and Silveer van den Broeck on Marco Polo out of the water. Even they, however, cannot make it more than rather shallow pleasantry. The Morning Mood is far better, though very deeply indebted to Wagner; originality isn't everything, however, and this is a nicely atmospheric, tender and wistful piece. Yes, Mortelmans tries a bit more in Mythe der Lente, but at least Morning Mood succeeds in its modest aims, and it really is a nice work.
Hyperion's sound is clear, crisp and spacious, and overall this is a warmly welcomed release - and without a shred of doubt the place to go if you wish to check out Mortelmans's music (but if you haven't done so yet, you certainly need to check out Biarent first).